Ramsay, Margaret, 1908-1991

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1908-05-27
Death 1991-09-04

Biographical notes:

Margaret Francesca Venniker (always known as Peggy) was born on 27 May 1908 in Molong, New South Wales, Australia. Her father was an army doctor and Peggy travelled extensively with her parents as a child. Japanese culture in particular formed a lasting influence in her life as a result of a childhood visit. She was brought up in Oudtshoorn, South Africa. She was taught French and German by tutors and later educated at the Collegiate School in Port Elizabeth, Girton College in Johannesburg and Rhodes University, Grahamstown.

On 29 September 1927 she married her psychology professor, Norman Ramsay. Following a scandal surrounding Ramsay’s business interests, the couple left South Africa for London in 1928.

Peggy left her husband shortly after arriving in London. Needing to support herself financially, she took singing lessons and successfully auditioned for the Carl Rosa Opera. She toured as a singer with the Carl Rosa for several years, until switching to an acting career in 1936.

Singing and acting was a means to an end for Peggy, but it was as a freelance play-reader for various managers that she began to make her mark on theatre. She was well-read in English and European literature and her ability to critique texts proved invaluable to managers and playwrights alike. Peggy also began to learn more about the practical side of theatrical management, assisting Hugh Hunt with the running of the Bristol Old Vic in 1945 and briefly co-managing the Q Theatre, west London in the early 1950s.

Peggy’s ability to spot potential successes had impressed a number of influential people, including Dorothy and Campbell Christie who offered to set Peggy up in business as a play agent. Margaret Ramsay Ltd was officially registered in 1953 [see authority record Margaret Ramsay Ltd, play agents, London 1953-1992 for a history of the agency].

The agency struggled financially for the first few years. Peggy had an early success with Waiting For Godot (which she did not represent, but championed anyway). Robert Bolt’s career (A Man For All Seasons, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago) helped to put the agency on a firmer financial footing. Money was never a motivating factor in Peggy’s work, she believed that hardship and struggle were necessary in order for creativity and talent to thrive.

Peggy’s reputation for discovering and developing new writing talent grew throughout the 1960s and 1970s, as did the size of her client list. Some of her most prolific clients were David Hare, Alan Ayckbourn and Willy Russell [see Dictionary of National Biography or Colin Chambers’s biography for a fuller discussion of the playwrights she represented]. She worked extensively with Michael Codron who produced many of her clients' work, including that of Joe Orton whom she took on in 1963. Peggy’s name remains inextricably linked with Orton’s. She appears as a character in the film of Orton’s life, Prick Up Your Ears (1987) and in Orton biographer John Lahr’s play Diary of a Somebody. She is also on record speaking about Orton in the BBC Arena documentary about his life, A Genius Like Us (directed by Pamela Brighton and Nigel Williams; first broadcast on BBC2, 1982).

Peggy’s approach to being an agent is captured by client Alan Plater in his play Peggy For You. A number of clients have also created characters inspired by Peggy: Marion in Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular (1972), Valentina Nrovka in David Hare's The Bay at Nice (1986), and Nancy Fraser in Peter Nichols's A Piece of my Mind (1987). Peggy received the BFI award for A Career in the Industry in 1984.

Peggy’s personal life was a chaotic one before she became an agent and she is known to have had many affairs during her time as a singer and actor. She later had an affair with client Eugene Ionesco. Her on-off relationship with actor William (Bill) Roderick took on a more permanent nature during the 1960s when he took responsibility for her domestic arrangements, living in her Brighton house where Peggy would join him a the weekends. In her later years Peggy became very close to the actor Simon Callow, who wrote about their friendship in Love Is Where it Falls (Nick Hern Books: London, 1999).

In 1984 Peggy underwent treatment for a suspected cancerous lump and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, but she continued to work solidly until the end of her life. In April 1991 there was a fire at the Goodwin’s Court offices and Peggy also had to cope with the death of Bill Roderick. She passed away on 4 September 1991, having been hospitalised with pneumonia.

In 1992 Peggy’s agency merged to become Casarotto Ramsay Ltd. The executors of Peggy’s estate, Simon Callow and solicitor Laurence Harbottle, used the proceeds to set up the Peggy Ramsay Foundation to support new playwriting.

Epithet: playwrights' agent; known as Peggy

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000499.0x000265

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